At 6’3” and 170 pounds, most assumed that Brandon Sutter needed to put on some serious weight before he would be anywhere close to ready for the rigors of the NHL.
However, after a strong showing at the recent eight-game Canada/Russia Super Series in which Canada went 7-0-1, the Hurricanes 2007 first-round draft choice may be proving those assumptions wrong.
Sutter had three goals and two assists in the tournament while displaying the great defensive play and hockey sense that made him the 11th overall pick last June. His play, including a dominant performance on a Canadian penalty kill that nullified 61 of 66 Russian power plays (92.4 percent), validated his reputation as being one of the best all-around players in his age group.
His effort didn’t go unnoticed back in Raleigh.
“He played a lot of minutes, he played in the key situations on a team that had a lot of great players on it, and he was probably in the top two or three players in the entire tournament,” said Jim Rutherford, the Hurricanes president and general manager.
“I don’t think we’ve had a kid at that age play as smart at both ends of the ice as Brandon showed,” said Assistant General Manager Jason Karmanos. “It seemed like he was always on the ice. He’s one of the better young penalty killers I’ve ever seen.”
While Sutter, 18, gained a considerable amount of attention from the Hurricanes’ management, no one felt the effects of his play more than Russian forward Alexei Cherepanov. In the third game of the series in Russia, Sutter delivered a crushing open-ice check to the New York Rangers' 2007 first-round pick that would cause him to miss the remainder of the tournament.
The play developed when Cherepanov tripped Sutter from behind before taking off with the puck towards the Canadian goal. Unfortunately for him, Sutter caught up.
Sutter was called for charging on the hit, which if you haven’t seen yet, is on YouTube.
“I knew he kind of tripped me or whatever, but I knew that as soon as I was tripped I was caught and they were going the other way with the puck,” said Sutter. “I was just coming back hard and then he ended up cutting across. I guess it was a pretty good hit.”
Pretty good indeed.
“He plays with an edge,” said Rutherford. “He’ll play the front of the net, he’ll play the corners, he’ll have open-ice checks. He actually hit Cherepanov twice in that same game and got penalized for that one that might not have been a penalty in our game in North America, but in international hockey it is. He can play a pretty physical game if necessary.”
Sutter’s style of play comes as no surprise to those that are familiar with the hockey careers of his father and five uncles, who all played in the NHL. He was coached by his father, Brent, both in Red Deer of the Western Hockey League and for Team Canada in the aforementioned Super Series. Brent Sutter will move on to coach the New Jersey Devils in 2007-08.
“He was born a hockey player,” said Rutherford. “Everything around him since the day he was born was hockey. He couldn’t have had any better training than he’s had to grow up in that family, be around professional hockey players, and then to be coached by his father for a little bit I think is special.”
“It comes with the family, it really does,” said Karmanos. “You can’t downplay the fact that he comes from the Sutter family and plays that style. It’s determination more than anything that they exemplify, and Brandon has that. He knows what he wants to do, and he wants to be a player.”
Sutter now finds himself in his first NHL training camp with the Hurricanes. Given the team’s strong group of forwards and his as of yet underdeveloped frame, Sutter was certainly never expected to make the team in his first year. While that remains a long shot, he could earn a very close look if he builds on his Super Series success and has a strong training camp.
“Anybody that comes to our camp will be given the opportunity to make it,” said Rutherford. “Eric Staal came to our camp in his first year with no contract, he had a great camp, we signed him and he made our team. If somebody shows that they’re ready to play, we’ll find a position for him.”
If Sutter does earn a longer look in camp, it may not be as cut-and-dry as either making the team or being sent back before the regular season opener on October 3.
One possible scenario would have him signing a contract with the Hurricanes and playing up to 10 games at the NHL level. At that point, the Hurricanes would have to decide whether to keep him all season or return him to Red Deer, as playing more than 10 games would count as a full year on his NHL contract.
Hurricanes forward Eric Staal’s younger brother Jordan of the Pittsburgh Penguins went that route last year, with the Penguins deciding to keep him with the big club for the duration of the year after nine games.
While the speculation about Sutter’s immediate future may persist throughout camp, he isn’t too worried about it just yet.
“Obviously everyone that comes here is trying to make an impression and trying to make the team,” he said. “That’s obviously everyone’s goal, and I’m here just to do the best that I can and then we’ll go from there."